In the hours after a gunman murdered 21 people inside Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, current and former principals who had survived school shootings mobilized to offer assistance.
The Principal Recovery Network, created by the National Association of Secondary School Principals, was founded in 2019 and is comprised of current and former school leaders who experienced gun violence in their schools, according to their website.
“It’s like that club that no one wants to belong to,” Frank DeAngelis, the former principal of Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, told The Washington Post. In 1999, two students killed 12 students and a teacher at Columbine.
DeAngelis, along with 16 others, founded the Principal Recovery Network, which has now grown to 29 that have been involved in shootings, CNN reported.
Other members involved include Kathleen Gombos, the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and both the former and current principal of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
In the moments immediately after the shooting at Robb Elementary, the principals immediately moved to mobilize.
“It’s an immediate dialogue,” Elizabeth Brown, who took over as principal of Forest High School in Ocala, Florida, after an April 2018 shooting, told The Washington Post. “What can we do? Who can we call? … Our very first thought is, ‘How can we as a group pour into that school community as soon as possible?”
DeAngelis told The Washington Post that he often makes the initial call to a school’s principal, knowing his connection to Columbine may make the greatest impact.
“I assure them this is not going to be a one-time call,” DeAngelis told the newspaper. “I state, ‘It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Let’s not talk about nine months from now. Let’s talk about what we’re going to do the first month, second month, and so on.’”
In determining which members will take the lead with any given school, the members try to look first at nearby schools or similarly-sized communities, The Washington Post reported.
While the Principal Recovery Network only formally began in 2019, DeAngelis told CNN that after the Columbine shooting, a former principal of a Kentucky high school who had experienced a gunman killing 3 students in 1997 reached out to offer support.
“He said, ‘Frank, you don’t even know what you need at this point, but just keep my number,’” DeAngelis told CNN.
The Principal Recovery Network told The Washington Post it is also working to create a handbook called “Guide to Recovery,” which will lay out guidelines for navigating the aftermath of a school shooting.
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